CEUS Reproducing System Of My Bösendorfer Imperial 290 Piano


    CEUS and my Imperial Piano
    "the capability to accurately record and to play back the full expressiveness of even the most talented pianist"

    This explains CEUS, and how my own Bösendorfer Imperial piano came to be retro-fitted with CEUS in the Fall of 2009.

    Wayne Stahnke
    Bösendorfer Computerflügel History - the 290SE: as I researched buying an Imperial piano I came across mentions of the Bösendorfer Model 290SE, an Imperial model that can be played as a conventional piano but also incorporates a sophisticated computer controlled mechanism to record a performance and then play it back autonomously. The 290SE was developed by American engineer Wayne Stahnke (hence "Stahnke Edition") working with the L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH company, then owned by Kimball International, Inc. of Jasper, Indiana. The first instrument was completed for a private owner and delivered in June 1978. The SE system was then licensed to Bösendorfer where between 1984 and 1986 some thirty seven (37) SE's including 225SE, 275SE, and the 290SE Imperial model pianos with some 290 to 290SE conversions were built. About one third of the production were 290SE's that sold with an even then hefty price tag of $90,000 - about the same buying power as $192,000 in 2010.

    Right: Wayne Stahnke, innovative visionary who developed the SE which is the foundation upon which CEUS was developed.
    Image courtesy of Mr. Stahnke.

    The superb recording and playback accuracy of the 290SE was unprecedented. Those who enjoyed an opportunity to record on the SE, and historians who had old music adapted to play on the 290SE have paid this high compliments. Decades later the reliable 290SE remain sought after and continue in service; one of the 290SE remains cherished (along with its Microsoft DOS 3.1 computer) at the University of Maryland's Michelle Smith Library International Piano Archives, near my Columbia, Maryland home. Unfortunately owing to the high cost the SE technology was not followed up by Bösendorfer, nor was it patented. However, this effort became the basis for pianos that would since December 1987 come to dominate this market even though technically and musically these did not surpass the 290 SE, and so the Yamaha 'Disklavier' became synonymous with recording pianos.

    The CEUS: it was in the Fall of 2005 when I first learned about CEUS, a new computerized reproducing piano system developed by L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH working in collaboration with the Austrian engineering firm TVE Electronic Systems and with the Vienna University of Technology. When I first heard the term "reproducing piano" I imagined little Bösendorfer pianos being born, popping out of a reproducing piano. But CEUS was designed for two purposes: 1. to record performances on the piano, and 2. have the piano replay the performance in the highest possible fidelity. CEUS would expand upon the prior 290SE developments while incorporating advances of technology, including networking, and software learned over the prior decades. The CEUS owes much to the original SE pianos including its hammer velocity sensing, closed-loop keyboard technology, and proportional pedaling. But CEUS resulted in patents pending for a number of innovations by the collaborators on the project. The 'Bösendorfer CEUS' trademark was granted on 4 January 2006.

    Right: CEUS introduction event at Bösendorfer New York on 16 June 2007.

    At first glance by a casual reader the introduction of CEUS might have appeared to be just another player piano system. But understanding the high standards set by Bösendorfer for their products and knowing the history of the 290 SE, I imagined CEUS could be light years ahead of a system as capable as the 290 SE. I also hoped CEUS would have a very easy to learn user interface - at least better than DOS 3.0. In time I came to comprehend the CEUS is truly a technological leap transcending all previous recording and playback systems, allowing for the very first time the capability to accurately record and to play back the full expressiveness of even the most talented pianist.

    The CEUS system exactly records the sequence of keys and pedals on the piano with heretofore unprecedented accuracy. Then CEUS can load the recorded data file and command the piano keyboard and pedals to exactly reproduce the performance. With CEUS one reproduces the performance beholding a piano as commanding as the Imperial is when repeating the exact rehearsal or performance - any time and at my convenience. Then once could record the performance to a CD or SACD later with conventional microphones and gear, ideally on the same Bosendorfer CEUS piano or transmit the CEUS performance data files elsewhere to study or record the performance as reproduced on another similar piano (another Imperial piano with CEUS for example) - though there might be some subtle differences in how a pianist plays one instrument from another, or one to another venue owing to acoustics or inspiration from the surrounds. So I no longer have to settle for a mere audio recording of guest pianists; no longer would I have to play their CD or SACD through speaker systems that simply can not reproduce the qualities or sympathetic resonance effects. The possibilities were sounding very exciting to me.

    Bosendorfer CEUS Intro June 2006

    "like having a pianist at your disposal full time,
    one with an uncommonly broad repertoire"

CEUS keyboard

Above: Image from Bösendorfer showing a CEUS equipped grand piano in action.
Click on image to see enlarged view.

    As explained by Bösendorfer literature:

      "CEUS-Musical emotions and virtuosity are authentically reproducible: for the first time, a pianist can experience himself "live" from the listener's standpoint thanks to the CEUS reproducing system. Artists can record anywhere, without studio stress, without taking into consideration the entire musical span of a work. For the first time, direct live recordings are possible from a concert hall without disturbing background noise. Compositions and improvisations can be recorded and documented."

    In this sense it is like having a pianist at your disposal full time, one with an uncommonly broad repertoire.

    The CEUS incorporates a computer with a hard disk where music performance data is stored in a digital format as a ".boe" file within directories. This is not merely an analog or digital recording of the audio track, but this is instead digital data of the performance keys and pedals sequence and timing. The .boe files are a fraction of the size of conventional recorded data. Furthermore, no information is lost or inadvertently modified when copying data from one CEUS piano to another, or from one storage device (hard disk, Memory Stick, etc.) to another. The data may be transmitted by a local network or through the Internet, by USB flash stick, etc. This provides some measure of immortality to the performer and also to his .boe data files. The CEUS is delivered with a sample digital song library of nearly one thousand five hundred files in .boe format. In time recordings in .boe format may be shared on the Internet, or transmitted by E-Mail, or imported from other devices for example. Elsewhere that performance can be played back and recorded by audio microphones, at any studio that has a similar CEUS piano.
    CEUS Volume

    The piano playback volume will by default match that level as originally recorded, so assuming a song was recorded on an Imperial piano for example it will essentially be played back at the same volume on another Imperial. But by touching the control buttons up or down in increments CEUS will play back the recorded song louder or softer. It is just as though a pianist is being asked to strike the keys a little harder or softer; this does nothing to alter the piano itself. So if a performance recorded in a large hall is to be listened to in a room at home, one can reduce the volume to comfortable (and 'hearing safe') levels.

    key signature sharp and flat Transposition (reading the music in one key while playing it back in another) is not a simple element of music theory, but for the CEUS doing this too is a snap since CEUS can transpose the song's key signature up or down by command with a push of the control buttons. This can be done even while the piano is playing back the song. Transposing the song can make life easier for your accompanying instrumental musicians or vocalist. Or one can change key simply to hear a familiar song played a bit differently.

    CEUS can be ordered factory installed in any new Bösendorfer Grand piano from the Model 170 (5'8") to the Imperial Model 290 (9'6"). Alternatively, a piano may be returned to the factory so that with some modifications to the piano the CEUS can be installed onto Bösendorfer grand pianos (models 170 to 290).

    The musicality of your Bösendorfer is not affected by having the CEUS installed furthermore, you need not even power-on the CEUS to play your piano. CEUS will no doubt provide many fine candle-lit dinners serenaded by any one of the many extraordinary artists whose efforts were saved for posterity in the CEUS library; that is this possibility that most stirred my imagination.

    "Nothing less than 1:1
    Welcome to a new dimension of recording and reproducing playing,
    practice sessions or concerts on a grand piano."
    not CEUS ZEUS

    Not Cues, but rather something between Seuss and Zeus: initially I was unsure about how to pronounce 'CEUS'. When I learned CEUS is pronounced like something between Zeus and the Seuss of Dr. Seuss fame ("Cat In The Hat", "Green Eggs and Ham", etc.), I was even more confounded about why Bösendorfer selected the CEUS name. When I first heard about it in 2005 at Bösendorfer New York they explained it was 'CEUSS' for "Computer Enhanced for Ultimate Super Sound", but since then I have seen it published only as CEUS. According to the earlier versions of both the German and English operating manuals CEUS is the acronym for "Create Emotions with Unique Sound", but this is in English. I tried to understand from where this originated while also wondering if the translation sounded better or made more sense in German (Emotionen erzeugen mit Einzigartiger Klang) but no, that does not work. I have noted neither the most recent operating manual nor the Bösendorfer web site explain the meaning of the CEUS acronym.

    Image © Dr. Seuss Enterprises. Used by permission.